The first question you need to ask yourself is, “What do I want telecom to do for me?” The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the following:
- Your industry
- The type of business you have
- The size of your business
If your business is in the car rental industry and all of your competitors have toll-free numbers, then you probably need to keep up with the Joneses. If your business deals only with exotic car rentals, a toll-free number may not be mandatory, but a Web site displaying the Porsches and Ferraris may be a must.
A national car rental chain may need an extensive data network to keep everyone informed about which cars are available at all locations. Take a moment to look at your company and your competitors to find out where you want to be in your industry. The services you and your customers demand will fall into five categories:
- Voice service: This is standard phone service that you have been using since the first time you called your Grandma to thank her for a birthday present. You need voice service (and you probably already have it), so a bigger question is whether most of your calls are outbound, inbound, or a relatively even combination of outbound and inbound calls. If most of your calls are outbound, and you only receive a few inbound calls a week, then standard voice service may be all your business needs.
- Toll-free service: A toll-free number is a special number that enables calls to come in from anywhere without the caller incurring a charge. The called party pays all the charges for the call. How much the called party pays for a call depends on the arrangements made with the long-distance carrier.
If you look at all of your voice calls and find that the majority of them are inbound from customers, you could probably benefit from toll-free service. For many companies, not having a toll-free number is disastrous.
If your car breaks down and you have to call for assistance from a pay phone, would you rather pay 50 cents to contact the answering machine of a tow truck or taxi company, or would you rather call for free? If you’re on hold for a couple of minutes on a toll-free call, at least you’re not paying for it.
People prefer to dial 800 numbers when they are going to order something, be it Diamonique jewelry or towing service. If you have to pay $75 to tow your car (and goodness knows how much to repair it), at least you can rest easy knowing that your phone call to the towing agency is the only part of the experience that doesn’t cost a thing.
- Data services: The term data services usually refers to non-voice communications such as e-mail, text messaging, and fax services that are transmitted over a private network. In every company, information needs to travel from one side of the office to another side of the office.
The sales team closes the order and relays it to the order-entry department. The order-entry department logs the order and sends it to the manufacturing department; the manufacturing department builds and tracks the order; and the shipping department sends the order to the customer.
For smaller companies, all these steps may be taken care of with an Excel spreadsheet or an industry-specific software package. As your company grows, however, more people in more offices need the same information, and the physical location of the offices is farther and farther apart.
Last year, your business’s second location may have been across the hall in the same building, but today you could have a London office that generates information that comes to you in Los Angeles before you send it off to your Tokyo division.
Data transmission can be done in many ways, and your decision will be based on the physical location of your offices, the frequency of data transmissions, and the amount of data being transmitted.
- Internet Service: Every office needs a connection to the Internet, if for no other reason than to enable employees to send and receive e-mail and while away the hours Googling their names. Many companies use the Internet to research their competitors, or they may use the Internet to visit suppliers’ Web sites to place orders, review shipments, and request services.
I can safely say that this portion of your telecom needs will not decrease in the future — it will increase incrementally. Many companies integrate the private networks transmitting their data services and their need to access the Internet on the public network.
- Wireless service: Wireless service can encompass all the other categories in this list, but because wireless service is usually provided by a different company than the one that provides your land lines, you need to view it as a separate telecom service. If you have an external sales force or a 24-hour service department that makes house calls, wireless service is an essential part of your business.